CBS' research guru David Poltrack: More people are watching TV than a decade ago

The notion that less people are watching TV, specifically millennial-age viewers, is a "myth," according to CBS Corp. Chief Research Officer David Poltrack.

CBS Corp. Chief Research Officer David Poltrack


Speaking alongside Marc DeBevoise, executive VP and GM of CBS Interactive, at the Television Critics Association summer press tour in Los Angeles, Poltrack suggested that TV viewership is simply changing, not going away.

He said that more people are watching CBS broadcast programming than they were a decade ago. Average viewership for the 2014-15 season was up to 12.3 million from 12.1 million in the 2003-04 season, he said.

The biggest change, Poltrack said, is in live viewing, which shrunk from nearly 100 percent a decade ago to a current level of only 61 percent. Potluck predicts that by 2020, only about 50 percent of viewership will be linear.

The CBS executives noted key changes in consumer technology that are driving this change: 79 percent of U.S. households have broadband, and 60 percent now have a connected TV. It takes about 12 to 18 months to figure out how to measure viewership on a new device or platform, Poltrack said. 

This explains, he added, the "disappearance" of the 18-34 year-old audience -- a demographic that declined 11 percent last season, according to Nielsen. Poltrack said the apparent decline in this viewing audience is largely related to the inability of current audience measurement systems to find viewers on smartphones and tablets.

Poltrack believes those people are still watching plenty of TV, and that millennial viewer patterns mirror those of previous generations, which settled back into the living room when home ownership and family building became priorities. 

"The difference in viewing levels has always been life-stage related," he said. 

DeBevoise, meanwhile, disclosed viewer data relating to CBS' direct-to-consumer subscription streaming service, CBS All Access. Users of the service, he said, watch twice as much programming as non-subscribers, and the average age of users is 43. More than 70 percent of the audience is in the 18-49 year-old demographic.

"We're delivering all of our ads essentially 100 percent on target in this service because we actually know all the users before they come and watch the video on our platforms," he said. 

CBS' cable operation fared better than most of its rivals during the second quarter. Led by Showtime, the unit saw its operating income increase by 3.3 percent in the second quarter to $220 million on revenue of $615 million, up 19.2 percent year over year. A big driver was the May 2 Mayweather-Pacquiao pay-per-view boxing match on Showtime, which generated more than $600 million in sales. 

For more:
- read this Re/code story
- read this Adweek story
- read this Broadcasting & Cable story

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